WMU News

Middle school math is target of $3.9 million NSF grant

Nov. 30, 1999

KALAMAZOO -- The National Science Foundation has awarded $3.94 million to a four-year statewide effort based at Western Michigan University that will help school districts implement new middle school math programs designed to boost student achievement.

The Middle School Mathematics Reform Project, dubbed M3RP by its directors, is a collaborative effort between WMU, the Michigan Department of Education and school districts around the state to help middle schools align their curricula with the state's new Curriculum Framework in Mathematics.

Using $767,291 in NSF funding awarded for the first year of the effort, researchers are already hard at work setting up a statewide network of five regional centers that will provide training for a minimum of 75 leadership teams from districts in every corner of the state. The project is designed to provide extensive training in mathematics content and teaching methods based on current research.

"There are wonderful new mathematics programs available to districts now, but those new programs require teachers to learn more mathematics content than they currently have. And they must learn to teach that content and assess student progress in very different ways," says Dr. Robert Laing, WMU professor of mathematics and statistics who co-directs the project with WMU's Dr. Ruth Ann Meyer. "This project sets up a structure to provide teachers and administrators with the training and support they need."

New programs have been developed under the auspices of the NSF and have been rated as "excellent" by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Laing says participants in M3RP will have a chance to become familiar with those programs. They are: Connected Mathematics, published by Dale Seymour Publications; MathScape, published by Creative Publication; Math Thematics from McDougal Littell Publishing Co.; and Mathematics in Context, published by Encyclopedia Britannica.

Laing and Meyer, who is a WMU professor emerita of mathematics and statistics, are longtime specialists in math reform at the elementary and middle school levels. Co-directing M3RP with them are Charles R. Allan, mathematics specialist with the Michigan Department of Education, and Dr. Mark Jenness of WMU's Science and Mathematics Program Improvement project. WMU's Sandra R. Madden is overseeing day-to-day operations of the effort as the project manager. An advisory board, comprised of mathematics education specialists from around the state, also is helping to guide the effort.

The M3RP will train district leadership teams across the state to help schools prepare for a dramatically new mathematics test in the 2002 Michigan Educational Assessment Program. That test will reflect the state's new mathematics framework as well as other state and national standards for mathematics education.

The training will help districts address the causes behind serious achievement problems among the state's middle school students. Only 28 percent of Michigan's eight-grade students achieved at or above proficiency level in math during the 1996 round of testing in the National Assessment of Educational progress.

"We're telling teachers and administrators around the state they cannot afford not to participate in this project," Laing says. "It's an effort to 'scale-up' middle school mathematics education on a statewide basis and get students ready for both MEAP 2002 and the 21st century."

Meyer notes that in an effort to prepare for the new MEAP, districts are asking teachers to select new teaching materials that address the new content students will need to know. But many of those teachers do not have an adequate mathematics background to address these new content areas.

"The problem is that most middle school teachers are most comfortable with the mathematics curricula of the past," she says. "They're not yet adequately informed to select a new program or even to be comfortable teaching with the new materials."

The M3RP will provide training for teachers in that new content as well as help in both selecting and implementing a new curriculum that is right for each individual district.

Meyer and Laing have been holding meetings at sites around the state to recruit districts to the project. They have been surprised by the level of enthusiasm they've encountered and are grateful for the opportunity the meetings have given them to become sensitized to the differences they'll need to address among districts.

"We almost have to design a model for each participating district," Meyer says. "Each district is facing different issues in implementing reform."

An implementation model tailored for a participating district, for instance, might include a plan that calls for the district to continue using its existing middle school mathematics program, while weaving in selected modules from one of the four recommended reform programs. Or it might mean helping the district make an immediate transition to one of the new programs by arranging teacher training as well as community information sessions.

Five regional centers will implement the training and capacity building within the participating

school districts. Two centers will be located in Southeast Michigan, one will be in Northern Michigan, one will be based in the Grand Rapids area and the final one will be located in the

Saginaw/Midland/Mount Pleasant area. The exact locations will be determined by the location of school districts that apply to take part in the project. Dec. 15 is the target date for selecting the participating school districts.

Each center will serve as a training and professional development site for 15 district leadership

teams, with each team coming from a single district or from a consortium of districts. The composition of each team will be determined in the participating district. The project directors suggest each team be comprised of two middle school mathematics teachers, one high school mathematics teacher, one elementary school teacher, one administrator and one member of the community.

Once trained, those district leadership teams will take their new knowledge and mathematical skills back to their districts to help colleagues prepare for transition to reform math programs as well.

For the new NSF-funded project, Meyer and Laing will tap an existing network of educators they have cultivated around the state. That network has grown out of their work for the past 10 years directing the Michigan Mathematics Inservice Project, which focused on retooling the state's cadre of K-8 teachers to improve the teaching of mathematics.

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, 616 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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